opinion

For Luxury Toys Technology is the Name of the Game

Dan Cameron

When it comes to luxury pleasure products, scoring is addictive — and it’s not just in the bedroom.

“We are seeing a massive surge in men purchasing female-centric sex toys like Soraya and GIGI2 ahead of the World Cup,” said LELO Global Marketing Manager Steve Thomson just as the soccer tournament started in mid-June. The company recently announced data showing men can be responsible for 72 percent of total sex toy sales in the run up to major sporting events, and many retailers have contacted LELO saying the same thing.

The pleasure products industry has taken major strides in terms of technology and design over the past 10 years, enabled by the fact the industry has evolved to include the luxury category. -Steve Thomson Global Marketing Manager, LELO

“This massive increase, compared to the typical 50/50 gender split between transactions on a typical day, begins in the week prior to a big match and has been observed during the build-up to the European Champions League, the Super Bowl, the Tour de France and many other major events,” he said. “We’ve dubbed this shift in sales trends as the ‘Brownie Sports Points’ phenomenon, where men buy premium sexy gifts in anticipation of not spending the usual amount of time with their partners.”

Outside this trend, he says, the emphasis in luxury purchases continues to come from couples looking to explore new experiences with their partners. Through their sleek designs, luxury products avoid the hurdle of being labeled as a substitute for a partner — instead offering something consumers feel happy exploring within a relationship. Currently, Thomson says the company’s best-selling products are couples massagers such as Hula Beads and IDA, both remote-controlled designs.

“The pleasure products industry has taken major strides in terms of technology and design over the past 10 years, enabled by the fact the industry has evolved to include the luxury category,” says Thomson. “However, while this year there’s a lot of media enthusiasm for wearable tech and mobile apps that connect with vibrators, it’s important not to describe such moves as advances if it becomes a case of technology used for technology’s sake. Manufacturers need to bring a genuine benefit to customers; luxury pleasure products are different from novelty products — they are not meant to be gimmicky, and it’s important to remember that.”

Technology is tied to all of the top brands, who keep an eye on trends to stay ahead of the game.

“We’re really starting to accept sex products as another category of consumer products, and companies such as We-Vibe are responding accordingly. There is also a new drive to create products that incorporate the same smart technologies we see elsewhere, and for them to fit seamlessly into consumer lifestyles,” says Denny Alexander, marketing communications manager at We-Vibe.

“Designers, consumers and retailers are all developing a much better understanding of human sexuality and the use of pleasure products by couples together. As a result, we’re seeing a lot of innovation in technology and design. We-Vibe has always been at the forefront of that drive; our products are backed by extensive research into the human anatomy and consumer use and behavior.”

Specifically, there has been great progress on the form and safety of products in the vibrator market. They have evolved from the basic phallic shape to become objects of beauty and creativity. The We-Vibe 4 has been a fan favorite since it launched last winter, Alexander notes, while the new Touch and Tango have been receiving rave reviews.

“We’re also experimenting quite a bit with new design technologies. We-Vibe uses cutting-edge resources like 3D printing and digital models to develop our designs. We’re also seeing technological progress in the products themselves; one important advance is the broader use and understanding of body-safe materials in products across the industry.”

When Jimmyjane started in 2004, it aimed to disrupt the category using design, innovation and quality standards that were previously unavailable, says Alicia Sinclair, VP of worldwide sales and business development. Consumers now recognize the value of a quality pleasure product and the positive impact they can have on their sexual health and relationships.

“The category is in an interesting space right now. We are seeing a lot of new technical innovations and interesting experimental designs,” she says. “We are really focused on providing products that promote connection and appeal to a mass audience. Some of the most innovative products are elegantly simple. When working on product development or revisiting an existing product, we don’t necessarily add all of the bells and whistles available just because we can. Instead, we relentlessly focus on the technology and shapes that enhance the customer experience and which purchasers will actually use.”

At the heart of Jimmyjane is a design-studio that gives the company the ability to upgrade existing products in its line. This includes small changes — such as switching all of its FORM line to a USB charging system, Sinclair says. “Being based in Silicon Valley gives our engineers early access to the latest technology offerings, big changes like utilizing Bluetooth, mobile and app controls can be made when we feel the technology is advanced enough to be invisible to the customer experience.”

Because people who purchase luxury goods automatically expect more, it is important for the technology and design to be at a high level, notes Susan Colvin, president and CEO of JOPEN. Advances include exclusive, streamlined designs and smooth, quiet motors. Silicone that is body safe and silky smooth is another trademark in its collections.

“USB charging cords, for example, are something discerning shoppers really appreciate. It makes charging the product fast and easy. Because everyone is already using USB cords for phones and other devices, it is a natural progression to have the same technology in pleasure products. Plus it is better for the environment since it eliminates the need for batteries.”

The company’s LUST products are popular, made with body-safe silicone. Many products feature dual motors and incremental speed control, and each is powered with an included USB cord. Essence by JOPEN is another top seller, Colvin adds. It is a luxury line of personal care cosmetics (lubricants, massage oils, enhancement crèmes and gels) meant to complement high-end toys. ENVY, KEY, EGO and Vanity continue to be strong sellers, all of the collections backed with impressive warranty programs (Vanity and EGO offer a 10-year replacement guarantee).

Jimmyjane’s Sinclair echoes Steve Thomson’s assertion that there is a growing consumer demand and interest in the couples market, “which is booming — changing the perception that vibrators are for the single girl. Our Hello Touch remains one of our top products because it is ideal for couples, enhancing the foreplay experience. Because of the mobility of the fingers you can touch, tickle, pinch and squeeze unlike any other vibrator and it is interactive so both partners are very much a part of the experience.”

Jimmyjane’s FORM 2 Vibrator has also remained a top seller since its launch in 2009. It is one of the most powerful clitoral stimulators of its size and small enough to use during couples play, Sinclair says. “There is a motor in the tip of each ‘ear’ and they surround a touch point in vibration creating a unique sensation unparalleled by any other vibrator.”

At Crave, CEO Michael Topolovac sees a big shift toward more modern products, with the days of “novelty” being numbered. “While there are certainly some emerging technologies that will materially impact the market, I think the much larger shift is that more sophisticated design and engineering efforts are being applied to the category, driving innovations and overall raising the level of quality in the industry, which is good for everyone.”

At OhMiBod, the new product line Lovelife is selling extremely well across all channels, says co-founder Brian Dunham. “In particular, our Adventure (triple stim) and Cuddle (g-spot) vibes. We’re also about to release blueMotion, our Bluetooth-connected, over-the-internet, controlled panty vibe,” he says. “We made some pretty significant improvements in our silicone coating process and we’re getting great feedback on that. In terms of design, winning the Red Dot award for Lovelife is amazing.”

And at Fun Factory, the company is living up to its name with Stronic Pulsators. “They are a new breed of sex toys. They are not vibrators or dildos, they are pulsators: they thrust instead of vibrating. They mimic the motions of lovemaking,” says Emilie Rosanvallon, director of marketing.

“I believe one of the only technological inventions in the toy industry for over a decade is ‘drive technology’, which is how pulsators work. They do not utilize a turbine motors; instead, they contain a system of magnets that allow the toy to move back and forth. In terms of design, the trend is to keep design sleek and simple and focus on functionality and performance; at least this is the way Fun Factory designs toys.”

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